Why Core Values are the Key to Change

There are probably as many definitions of leadership as there are leadership books, which is to say – a lot. But when it comes down to it, I believe the one thing leaders really get paid for is making choices.

Someone has to choose X over Y and accept accountability for that choice. By my definition, then, leadership occurs throughout all levels of an organization. That’s why it’s critical that organizations equip their leaders with a framework for making those choices. I believe the best way to do this is by establishing core values.

“Core values are not a corporate declaration, but rather a community standard.”

Core values should be a concise expression of the principles that already underly your business.

That way, as your organization grows and your leaders have to make more choices, those choices become easier when they align with the internal and expressed values of your working community.

For example, here at GXG, I have a shortcut to weighing hard choices against our core values by simply asking:

“Is this fun?”

I don’t mean that flippantly. Since I believe most positivity in a workplace culture can be provided by revenue growth, we make sure to focus our efforts as a team around that. But “is this fun?” drives even deeper to remind everyone that, even when chasing revenue, we want our work to be fulfilling by 1) actually helping clients and 2) keeping us engaged with humble, positive businesspeople. If we wouldn’t invite someone home for dinner with the family, we don’t have to work with them.  

In this way, core values help us at critical turning points in our business. We see this with clients as well. In our advisory boards, there always tends to be this breakthrough moment when the external board members and the GXG team truly get to know our clients. I like to say that we’re all really great at knowing things about each other, but we never really know each other. That changes the instant the advisors start to translate their recommendations into the language of the clients’ core values. It’s critical to listen through resistance and negative feedback for what’s actually just a misalignment between the suggestions offered and the way the core values guide operations.

That’s not to say that core values never need to change. But if a value is so tied to your operating model as to not accommodate innovation or growth, is it really “core”?

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